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O’Gara Rediscovers The Magic

16th May 2005 By Munster Rugby

O’Gara Rediscovers The Magic

O’Gara bagged a full house of try, conversion, dropped goal and penalty in his 17-point haul and was almost unrecognisable from the disconsolate figure who finished the Six Nations.

O’Gara bagged a full house of try, conversion, dropped goal and penalty in his 17-point haul and was almost unrecognisable from the disconsolate figure who finished the Six Nations.

O’Gara bagged a full house of try, conversion, dropped goal and penalty in his 17-point haul and was almost unrecognisable from the disconsolate figure who finished the Six Nations, writes Brendan Gallagher in the The Telegraph.

Nobody would wish injury on any player but nearly two months on the sidelines have done Ronan O’Gara a power of good and he served notice in Munster’s 27-16 Celtic Cup final victory over Llanelli in Dublin that Jonny Wilkinson and Stephen Jones will not be the only contenders for the coveted Lions No 10 jersey.

O’Gara bagged a full house of try, conversion, dropped goal and penalty in his 17-point haul and was almost unrecognisable from the disconsolate figure who finished the Six Nations. The Munsterman, with the full support of his provincial coach Alan Gaffney, has undergone a complete service of body and mind and is manifestly ready for the fray again. The diary was cleared for eight weeks and with Paul Burke an able deputy at fly-half, there was no deadline placed on his return.

First, he addressed the knee ligament tear and various other minor leg ailments that needed clearing up and were limiting his ability to break effectively. Then he took a critical look at all Munster and Ireland’s match videos and concluded that the critics were right and that the devil and creativity had gone out of his game. Only his splendid goal-kicking stood the test during Ireland’s championship campaign. Specifically, he noted that he had virtually lost the ability to spin out his trademark 30-yard miss-passes on the hoof – the de luxe midfield delivery that helped bring out the best of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy last season.

So he went back to basics and, after gruelling morning sessions on his knee, long afternoons have been devoted to refining his passing, including resorting to the time-honoured technique of filling an old leather ball with sand to create a ‘medicine rugby ball’ in order to strengthen the necessary muscles. The cure, it seems, is nearly complete.

"I’ve used the break to my advantage," O’Gara concedes. "I’ve been able to fine-tune a lot of things and feel very fresh. It’s all to play for now. Lions tours have a life of their own and nothing stands still in rugby. Stephen Jones was undoubtedly the form fly-half of the Six Nations, but I like to think I was the form fly-half of the autumn series. Now comes the Lions. Jonny is back in the equation, Charlie Hodgson too, and you never know how factors like injury are going to affect the team.”

There was further good news from Lansdowne Road for Lions head coach Sir Clive Woodward by way of an aggressive and effective performance from Paul O’Connell, who looked much more animated than in the Six Nations. O’Connell was Munster’s major source of line-out ball and also grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck midway through the second half when Llanelli threatened to rally and ensured that Munster, so often worthy runners-up in various competitions, finally bagged a little silverware.

It was an apt going away present for Gaffney, who now joins Eddie Jones as Australia’s assistant coach for the 2007 World Cup campaign. He has coached Munster with a light touch, encouraged a more expansive style and helped maintain the highest traditions. He did not deliver the Heineken Cup that Munster crave, but until they recruit a back division to match their forwards that is one dream that will remain unfulfilled.

Brendan Gallagher – The Telegraph.

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